Opening prayer discussed at school board meeting
“As a practicing Catholic I love it. As an attorney, I’m concerned about people who aren’t of any faith, or atheists, and offending them. And I see you rolling your eyes,” Board Member Stanley Ames said to Board President Edward Tritt.
“No I’m not. I’m shrugging my shoulders,” Tritt said with a laugh.
That was just part of the conversation that transpired at the Monday, June 9, Tecumseh School Board meeting where board members discussed the possibility of opening board meetings with prayer.
Board member Jim Rice initiated the discussion after noticing the Lenawee Intermediate School District opens their meetings with prayer. Rice also noted the recent Supreme Court ruling in Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway Et Al. as part of his reason for the discussion. In that case, on May 5, the United States Supreme Court upheld the right for towns to open meetings in prayer.
“Why can’t we look at prayer as simply saying that at least we understand collectively we are able to do more than we are individually, and at best, or at the higher end of things, we can accept the concept that there is a higher power that also works and helps us keep focused and keep centered,” said Rice. “Is it a good idea to remind ourselves of that at each meeting?”
“You know when I was first on the board umpteen years ago we did have a clergy come in,” said Tritt. “I don’t know why we stopped. It would be a way — besides the concept of prayer — of including another part of our community. It doesn’t sound like a bad idea if there is an interest out there with the clergy to come in and do it.”
Board member Roger Hart raised concerns on what the board would do if it couldn’t find clergy willing to perform an opening prayer before meetings.
“You wouldn’t want to just have a board member just do it?” asked Hart. “I wouldn’t say that it would be hung up on whether or not we could get clergy to come in. If you couldn’t get enough ministers to the point to do it, it would kill the idea for us if we wanted to do it as a board.”
Hart also mentioned that a generic prayer might better serve the needs of the board.
“I would think if we were going to do something like this, I’d be more comfortable with a generic prayer than with the clergy,” said Hart. “If it was an agreed upon prayer that we were going to read, I think we could better control any objections or issues.”
Ames raised concerns that just because the Supreme Court ruled they could have prayer, doesn’t necessarily mean the Tecumseh School Board should.
“Once again, you know, the minority dictates to the majority often,” Ames said. “We have a whole set of laws that are geared towards that protection. So you know the simple fact the Supreme Court says we can, I don’t know that necessarily means the schools have to have one as well. At the same time, if there was a Catholic school, I would send my kids to that.”
“That’s true,” said Tritt.
“I don’t see a problem with it,” said board member Kimberly Amstutz-Wild.
Board member Greg Johnson was absent from the meeting.
Board member Debbie Johnson-Berges was the only member to raise concerns about having an opening prayer.
“I am uncomfortable,” said Johnson-Berges. “And the reason I am is because we’re a public school that’s supposed to be inclusionary to all faiths or non faiths. As soon as we start opening prayer at the beginning of prayer you have now excluded someone or some group. And I am just concerned that becomes something we do. Faith, to me, is a very personal decision and it is not something that I want to impose or not impose on anybody else.”
“If you have a Catholic come in to do the prayer you’re going to have some other denominations that are uncomfortable with that,” said Rice. “If you have an evangelical come in and give prayer, or even Pentecostal, you are going to have some people who are uncomfortable with that.”
Rice continued to make an argument for the inclusion of an opening prayer.
“You can make an argument for it that it’s part of our culture, that it’s part of what the United States has always been even though we came across here mostly as Christian and for partly we came over here because of wanting religious freedom,” said Rice. “And even as an atheist you can still respect the concept that the whole is greater than the one. And if a prayer reflects that, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
“That’s because you’re not an atheist,” said Ames.
The discussion was tabled for a later board meeting.
“It’s kind of something on the back burner. At the very least, I would suggest seeing if there is any interest in the clergy trying to do it again. Not signing it up, just seeing if there is [interest],” said Tritt.